1.9.14

A Drive in the Country - Crooked Bush Botanical Mystery

My jaunt to North Battleford revealed a delightful surprise. Crooked Bush is an unusual grove of aspens that has intrigued me since I first read about it in a local travel magazine but I didn't know where it was. Aspens are normally a tall thin pencil straight tree. For an unknown reason they have grown in a sporadic fashion in this little grove. 

But if you are out looking for this little patch of trees, good luck. The signage has been changed and a different route is being used to get there. However, it is worth the drive.

I arose before dawn to arrive in the 'golden hour' for photography. 

After more than 40 minutes of driving I was encouraged by this sign that I was going in the right direction. Not so! I drove and I drove until the road changed from gravel to dirt. No Crooked Bush. It is 6:45 am and my gas tank is running low. I am in the middle of nowhere and decide to drive back to the highway and the extra kilometers to Hafford , fill up with gas and ask better directions.

This cute-as-a-button bistro opened at 7 am and had excellent coffee and home baked pastries. It was a comfortable spot to wait until the gas station opened. Then I filled the tank, gratefully accepted the brochure with proper directions and got back on the road.

These are the proper directions to the Crooked Bush from Hafford (on the highway between North Battleford and Prince Albert, SK) ....
14.5 km west of Hafford on Hwy 40, past Speers to Flint Road.
Turn north into the country and drive 16 km (10 miles). You are driving through open farmland. It's beautiful and you are easily lulled into a sense that you will easily see the sign signalling a turn. NOT! Clock it exactly with your odometer and look for an inconspicuous little intersection with no unique landmark.
Turn east and drive 2.5 km (1.5 miles).
Can you spot the sign? That little one below the YIELD sign.
Close up of the little sign. Glad it's 'not far now'!

See the sign? Not much help are they!
Success this time. Crooked Bush is a tiny unassuming grove in the middle of nowhere. At 7:30 am I am alone with the trees and the birds. The sun is warm. The air is crisp. The grass is dewy.
This sign requests that you treat the area with respect. Amazingly, it was pristine. No disturbance, no garbage, no hint of human visitors inside the grove.
University research has all but concluded that these trees grow crooked as a result of genetic mutation.

Locals know that a full moon lights up the Crooked Bush but courage of stone is necessary to visit it at night.



On the other side of the road not more than 20 feet away is a normal bluff.




31.8.14

Lemongrass Chicken Curry

I have been craving real food. My summer is so busy and I feel like I am letting all the wonderful produce of the season pass me by. There is never time to make anything but a pot of steamed peas with butter. Or a big mess of green beans. The balanced meal has been difficult to fit into my baking schedule for the market.

Lemongrass was in my refrigerator. I buy wonderful herbs, vegetables and fruit and there they sit. But it was the lemongrass that motivated me. It should have been the chocolate mint. My herb vendor gave me chocolate mint and suggested I make tea. It sat for a couple of weeks in my produce bin in the refrigerator and finally it was moved to my compost pail. Every time I opened the pail to add trimmings and peels the mint was instantly reminding me how I lost that opportunity.

A lot of vegetables can be added if you like. I added the kernels from a cob of fresh corn and a few cherry tomatoes but I can see zucchini going nicely with this. There is a lot of curry sauce.

This is a Sri Lankan inspired lemongrass chicken. I had everything in my pantry except the chicken. Serve with basmati rice, white or brown.


Lemongrass Chicken Curry


2 lbs chicken breast cut into large pieces
1 onion sliced
2 jalapeno chiles sliced 
5 curry leaves
2 stalks lemon grass (bruised and cut into 2 inch pieces)
1 inch piece cinnamon stick
juice of 1 lemon  
1 tsp. turmeric powder
2 green cardamom pods
3-4 cloves
3 c. chicken broth
1 tbsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tbsb. grated fresh garlic
1 can (15 oz) coconut milk
salt and black pepper tor taste
red chili flakes to taste
cornstarch as needed


Cut chicken and season it with salt and black pepper.  Add some cornstarch to coat outside of chicken lightly.  In a large pan heat 2 tablespoons canola oil.  Fry curry leaves, lemongrass for 1 minute.

Then add the chicken and fry for 3-4 minutes until outside of chicken is browned.  Next add ginger, garlic, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon stick and cook for another 2 minutes.  Finally add onion and jalapeno chilies and some salt.  Fry for another 2 minutes.   Then add turmeric powder, and red chili flakes.  Fry for another 1 minute.



Add the juice of the lemon and chicken stock and more salt to cook.  Cook for 15-20 minutes on medium high heat.  Finally add coconut milk and cook for another 2 minutes.  Taste for salt and seasoning.  Serve over rice. Enjoy.

26.8.14

Buying a Grain Mill? Some Considerations


As the use of ancient grains and organics becomes more popular so is milling your own flour. It is easier to find the grains than the flour but also, flavour and nutrition are increased when the flour is freshly milled for baking. 

Considerations when choosing a mill include the power source, the type of milling mechanism, its convenience, the heat produced through the process of milling, how much flour you want to mill and cost of the machine.

Manual mills are for the energetic person. Grinding by hand is a workout. Because the speed of milling is slower there is little chance of nutrient damaging heat build up in the flour. However if you have a lot of power outages this may be a better choice. The manual mills attach to a countertop or solid surface like a pasta machine or meat grinder. There is a handle to turn. Some can be converted to a pulley system and powered by a stationary bicycle.

Electric mills are simple to use. Just press a button. There are mills that can be powered both manually or with electricity.

A mechanism is required to crush, beat or grind the grain into meal and usually a range of textures from fine to coarse is most desirable. Most machines will have a recommended list of grains it will grind. Most do not recommend grinding oily or wet items such as nuts and flax. There are two basic categories of mechanisms for the home mill – burr and impact.

The burr has two grinding plates, one fixed and the other rotated. Grain is fed into the gap between the grooved plates and the grain is sheared and crushed. Stone plates are also available and are a composite made from compressing natural or artificial stones in a bed of concrete. Metal burrs are made from hardened cast steel. The difference is that stone burrs crush the grain and metal burrs break and shear it. A burr machine will be heavier than an impact mill.

Impact mills use two flat stainless steel heads with concentric row of teeth that spin within each other at high speeds. Grain drops into the teeth and is hammered rather than ground. This type usually only makes a fine flour.

The convenience factor is an important consideration. How convenient do you need this machine to be? How much does it weigh? Some can be up to 20 pounds. Can it be stored easily? Sizes vary. How much time do you have? Manual mills are definitely slower. How much flour do you require at one time? Mill capacities vary.

As milling time or speed increases it raises the temperature of the flour. This in turn risks damaging the nutrients and gluten. If you do not plan to use the flour right away, it is suggested that you let the flour cool to room temperature before packaging. If it is not allowed to cool it may mold. 112 to 115 F (44 to 46 C) is the upper limit to reduce the risk of nutrient damage. Gluten is damaged at temperatures above 122 F (50 C) and totally destroyed at 167 F (75 C).

I do not own a flour mill and have only two friends who do. Both have a Nutrimill and are happy with it. One friend only mills wheat while the other mills a variety of grains. I have received comments on the Thermomix machine and the Kitchenaid attachment for the stand mixer.

The Nutrimill has very detailed product information to help make a decision. It is an impact mill that can grind from fine to coarse. It grinds at a temperature of 118 F (48 C) and will grind all grains and beans but not oily seeds and grains such as flax. It has an 11” x 13” (28 cm x 33 cm) footprint and has a removable hopper for easy storage in a cupboard. It is low dust and self-cleaning. It has a 22-cup (5.2 L) capacity.
The Kitchenaid user was not happy saying it didn’t provide a uniform product. The company website offers no specifications. The Thermomix user did not respond to questions but knowing the appliance, heat will likely be an issue due to the mechanisms. There is no information on the company web page.

The amount of money you spend is directly related to how frequently you plan to use the mill. If you only occasionally make flour then you won’t want to spend a lot of money. Prices range from $250 - $1,000 or more.

Soft grains like red fife grinds much faster than hard grains like kamut and spelt. The harder grains will take longer to grind and therefore, there is more concern for heat build up. Larger quantities milled at one time will also raise concerns of heat build up. One important note is that you will have whole grain flour. Most grocery store flour is enriched with the bran and germ removed. These two parts are very nutritious. However, the wheat germ oil will go rancid, therefore, it is better if wheat flour is milled just before use. If desired, the bran can be removed by sifting.

Making a choice requires defining your needs and doing the research. Think about how much flour you mill. If it is more than basic household amounts you may need to look at a commercial model. Consider your storage space. Do you want to haul up a heavy machine from the basement every time you mill flour? Consider your budget.

6.8.14

Peach Melba Cordial

I have been following the British Larder for a few years and love all their recipes. Madalene and Ross have a restaurant in Suffolk, England and how I wish I could eat there. All the meals are made with fresh, in season ingredients. They are beautifully presented and the flavours sound amazing.

Their website is full of wonderful simple yet complex recipes. I think this is the first one I have made at home. Raspberries and peaches were in my refrigerator when this recipe came into my email.

I keep all my vanilla pods after scraping out the seeds. There is still a lot of flavour and they are rather expensive. I used 2 or 3 scraped vanilla pods for this and the flavour was perfect.


Peach Melba Cordial from The British Larder
  •  2 cups very ripe peaches, stoned and roughly chopped
  • 3 cups  sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthways and seeds scraped out
  • 1 cup raspberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1 teaspoon citric acid
Place all the ingredients, apart from the citric acid, in a medium saucepan over a low heat and leave the pan uncovered. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then just leave the pan over the low heat for 20 minutes – the fruits are steeping during this time and the mixture does not need to boil. Don’t be tempted to increase the heat as this will change the flavour.
Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the citric acid and leave to infuse for 30 minutes. Pass the liquid through a piece of muslin cloth into a bowl or jug (use the steeped fruits left in the muslin as a compote served over yoghurt for breakfast). Pour the cordial into sterilised bottles and seal. Keep refrigerated until needed. The unopened bottles of cordial will keep for up to 2 weeks in the fridge. Once opened, keep refrigerated and use within 1 week. Alternatively, freeze the cordial in portions (in freezer bags), then defrost and use as required.
Makes 1 - 2 quarts

Peach Melba Spritzer
For each serving, fill glass with ice, pour about half way with cordial and top up with soda water. For a sweeter drink, use carbonated lemonade. Decorate with fresh raspberries and peach slices. Serve

Peach Melba Collins
For each serving, fill glass half full with ice, pour equal portions cordial and gin, add a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Then add a few crushed frozen raspberries and a slice of fresh peach. Top the glass up with soda water, stir and serve.

Peach Melba Martini
Place martini glass in refrigerator to chill. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add 1 part gin or vodka, 2 parts Martini Dry and 2 parts cordial. Shake vigorously. Strain into chilled glass and serve immediately. 
After almost a month in the refrigerator this has been fermenting and has become fizzy. I wonder if there is any alcohol content now?

5.8.14

Backyard Barbecue Ribs

Honey apricot jam is delicious with ribs.

We are enjoying the summer and sunshine with a backyard barbecue with the Cooking Club this month. It has been screaming hot and turning on the oven is not an option today. Ribs are a favourite barbecue meat yet something I rarely make. As is my habit, I have tweeked the Cooking Light recipe. I have converted it to a dry rub rather than a paste. I have eliminated the slow cooking in the oven by keeping the ribs on the barbecue.

Barbecue is nicer when using charcoal but if you have a gas grill, soak purchased barbecue woodchips. Place them in a foil pan with holes poked in it and cover with kitchen foil. The smokey flavour is so tasty. You won't want to do this any other way. 


Ribs are to be tender but not with the meat falling off the bone. Low and slow heat is key. Brown over the coals and then move them to a spot on the grill that is cooler. Keep the lid on the barbecue and cook the ribs for up to 2 hours on the cool side of the grill.

Here is the rest of the menu




Backyard Barbecue Ribs

Rib Rub
2 tsp. ground ancho chiles
2 tsp. ground morasch chiles
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. Spanish smoked paprika
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne
3 lb. rack pork loin back ribs, trimmed

Soak wood chips in water for an hour, if using. Drain well. Place them in a disposable foil pan with holes poked in it. Set aside. Preheat grill to medium high heat using only the burner on one side of the barbecue.

Combine all ingredients, except ribs, in a bowl. 

Prepare the ribs by removing the silverskin on the back side of the rack. This will never tenderize with cooking and is best to be removed. Slip a sharp knive under if to loosen then take a towel in your hand to grab the skin. It will pull off quite easily. Discard.

Rub both sides of the ribs with the seasoning mixture. Let sit at room temperature for an hour before grilling.

Place foil container of wood chips on the cool side of the grill. Grill ribs on both sides on the hot side of the grill. As they are finished move off the direct heat. Reduce heat a little and let ribs slowly cook for about 2 hours. Keep the lid on.

When tender, remove from grill and serve.


30.7.14

Argentinian Chimichurri Sauce is great on your mixed grilled meats

Chimichurri sauce is just like a pesto. Lots of fresh herbs, garlic and a good quality olive oil. It matches with any meat from your grill. And it only takes a minute to make.


Argentinian Chimichurri Sauce
2 c. packed fresh Italian parsley leaves 500 mL
4 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/4 c. packed fresh oregano leaves 60 mL
1/4 c. red wine vinegar 60 mL
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes 3 mL
1/2 tsp. salt 3 mL
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 c. extra virgin olive oil 250 mL
 
Place parsley, garlic, oregano, vinegar, pepper flakes, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment. Process until finely chopped, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed, about 1 minute.
With the motor running, add oil in a steady stream. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and pulse a few times to combine. Transfer sauce to an airtight container and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 1 day to allow the flavors to meld. Before serving, stir and season as needed. This will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.